I’ve always been self-conscious about my handwriting.
Like most insecurities, I couldn’t tell you exactly when I started to feel that way. Like most insecurities, though, I had good reasons to feel that way.
In 8th grade, my FPS team forced me to stop writing in cursive. It seemed my illegible handwriting was hurting our score. That wasn’t the first instance, though, where I was made to realize that my handwriting wasn’t just quirky or irregular but detrimental.
In elementary school, my teacher told my parents she was worried about my handwriting. Parent-teacher conferences were always interesting growing up, because not only were both of my parents teachers, but they were also both teaching at my school. My teacher told my parents how, among other issues, I turned in papers with holes in them because I would write and rewrite words, tracing the letters out over and over again, until I literally tore through the page.
I remember my mom asking me why I felt the need to write like that. I don’t remember what I said, but I know at the time I couldn’t really articulate the real reason. I wasn’t a bad student. That’s probably why my teacher felt the need to tell my parents. I was a teacher’s pet, if there ever was one, and one of the smartest kids in class, but my handwriting was atrocious.
And the thing was, I knew that. It wasn’t that I didn’t realize that my handwriting was bad, and it wasn’t that I didn’t care.
That’s why I rewrote words.
I would spell out a word, then immediately look at it and know it didn’t look right. The loops weren’t neat and tidy like in the book. I always figured it was because I couldn’t hold my pen the right way, despite repeatedly trying to train myself to. The spacing was sloppy. Letters crashing into each other like a pileup on the freeway.
I knew it didn’t look like it was supposed to, and, for reasons that even I can’t explain, instead of erasing it and starting over, I would rewrite the word on top of the word I had already written. I would trace out the lines thinking, insanely, that I could fix it.
And that’s why my papers had holes in them.
That’s why whenever I wrote with a pen my hands came away smudged with ink because I put so much on the page it was literally wet. I knew I had bad handwriting, and, in trying to correct it, I ended up making it worse.
Obviously, it didn’t improve by 8th grade, so my classmates felt the need to hold an intervention for my handwriting, and I switched back to block lettering. My writing became legible, but it looked like a 3rd grader had written it. Needless to say, the moment I got to high school and essays written on the computer became the standard, I thanked my lucky stars.
I’m a little more tolerant of my handwriting now. When you have the kind of addiction to journals that I have you learn to make peace with such things. But it still comes back now and then, when I’m writing a letter or something I know someone else will see, that feeling that I now recognize as shame.
I see now what the problem was.
My handwriting was not pretty. There’s nothing wrong with that, but, at the time, I didn’t have the self-confidence to be okay with it.
Maybe it’s one of those ironic character traits: a writer who can’t write. If I had thought of it like that, it might have been better. But I couldn’t see it as a quirk. I couldn’t see it as something that wasn’t worth worrying about.
I could only see it as a flaw. So I tried to fix it and made it worse.
But the process did teach me my first, real writing lesson: you can’t “fix” writing while you’re writing.
“Write now, edit later” is something I say to fellow writer’s a lot, because it’s true. Nothing stops writing like trying to edit while you’re writing. You can’t do it. You will kill any momentum you have. You will only end up like I did, rewriting the same thing over and over until it looks “right”, which, let me tell you, it never will.
But if you just let the words come, not worrying so much if they are the “right” words or obsessing over the fact that this may not be what you pictured in your head, you will learn a couple things. One is that it’s a lot easier to write when you don’t worry about these things. Two is that when you come back to edit, you will find less to “fix” that you originally thought.
That’s the paradox that so few of us ever figure out.
Maybe it’s not handwriting for you. In the digital age, after all, who needs to worry about that? Maybe it’s a particular turn-of-phrase you’re fond of. Maybe you like to write in short sentences. Maybe your vocabulary is not as “sophisticated” as other writers. Maybe it’s your voice...
Whatever it is, it’s a sure bet it’s something.
Take it from someone who has wasted a lot of time in this, you’ll never get better if you can’t accept your imperfections. Because, and here’s the corny moral you knew was coming, they are you. Take them away and you might be a decent writer, but you would be bland, boring, and no one would want to read you.
You can’t hate yourself into a better writer. A better anything, for that matter.
So don’t. Accept that you aren’t perfect, and you just might find that you are good.
Take it from someone who never did learn to hold a pen the "right" way.
This article was written by Douglas Humphries, and originally published on his blog.
Douglas Humphries is a full-time creative and part-time vagabond. He is a five-time NaNoWriMo winner and recently self-published a memoir about the Book of Jeremiah called Fire In My Bones. You can find him on his website, DouglasHumphries.com, as well as CreateLounge, a creative community and blog, where he is a regular contributor.